Legislature

Adding pot shops to improve social equity hits WA legislature trap

As currently drafted, HB 2022 would allow up to 304 new pot retail stores and 200 new cannabis production and processing businesses to open over the next eight years.

Currently, the state has capped retail licensing to allow only 556 cannabis retail stores statewide.

Wicks, the main sponsor of HB 2022, said when the state’s marijuana system began, officials were primarily concerned with processing license applications quickly. But, she said, “Nothing has been done to ensure that the limited number of licenses distributed are distributed in a way that restores the lives of families, among those most targeted by unfounded fears and subjective laws. “.

This meant that “licenses were granted to those with existing capital and resources – the connected and the wealthy – and not the many people who engaged in this once illegal market,” Wicks told a public hearing on January 28 before the House Commerce and Gaming Committee.

“Increasing licensing is the clearest path to righting this historic wrong and providing opportunity for all,” Wicks said.

As written, HB 2022 would open 38 new cannabis retail licenses and 25 new production and processing licenses each year through 2029.

At first, these licenses would only be available to people participating in the state’s cannabis social equity program. Then, starting in 2030, half of new cannabis business licenses would be reserved for social equity applicants, while the other half would be available for other aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs.

Jim Buchanan, president of the Washington State African American Cannabis Association, said it was necessary to reserve licenses for social equity applicants because of the number of opportunities black Washingtonians have been excluded from — not just in the cannabis industry, but in all fields.

The goal is to give black Washingtonians the opportunity to build generational wealth, he said, especially given how they have historically been overpoliced ​​for cannabis crimes. A 2012 study found that in the decade before Washington voters legalized pot, Washington state police arrested African Americans for possession of marijuana at 2.9 times the rate of whites, although black Washingtonians reported lower rates of marijuana use. The same study found that police arrested Latinos and Native Americans for possession of marijuana at 1.6 times the rate of whites.

“They have to measure what racism has been for the past 420 years and allow us to have some of this industry that we went to jail for,” Buchanan said.

However, existing cannabis business owners have resisted the idea of ​​increasing the number of cannabis retail stores by up to 55% over the next eight years.

Adán Espino Jr., executive director of the Washington Craft Cannabis Coalition, said there was a risk of flooding the market with new cannabis companies and destabilizing the industry in the process. His organization supports another measure that would direct $125 million a year in tax revenue to communities affected by the war on drugs, but opposes HB 2022.

“…The market as a whole remains oversaturated, to the point of creating price volatility for all licensees,” Espino told members of the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 5.

He added: ‘We fear there is a false promise of fairness being made pushing hundreds of new licenses, in an industry that only sees 42% of its companies turning a profit.’